Solar Panels

Solar Panels

Solar power plays a key role in combatting global warming and reducing air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels, such as gas and coal. While there are no global warming emissions associated with the actual generation of electricity using solar power, there is an environmental impact associated with their production, which could be mitigated thanks to better design.

A solar photovoltaic (PV) system produces power through an arrangement of several components, including solar panels to absorb and convert sunlight into electricity, a solar inverter to change the direct electric current (DC) to compatible alternating current (AC), as well as mounting, cabling, and other electrical accessories.

Between 2005 and 2015, the installed solar PV power in Europe increased 50 fold to reach 95 GW. This could triple again to reach 270 GW in the next decade.

In terms of environmental impact, the main areas of concern are:

  • The energy and resources required for their production, particularly for the PV panels;

  • The critical materials they contain;

  • What happens to them at the end of their life.

 Moreover, the energy-saving potential for solar systems is significant, as solutions exist to make them more efficient and therefore more performant. Using PV panels longer would also reduce their carbon footprint and keep critical materials in use.

 WHAT IS THE EU DOING?

Photovoltaic panels and inverters are on the Ecodesign & Energy Labelling radar: in 2017, the European Commission launched a preparatory study to look at ways to reduce their impact on the environment at design stage. Other tools such as the EU Ecolabel and Green Public Procurement criteria could also be used.

This is to complement the work which is being done under the EU waste legislation, which is making producers responsible for the take-back and recycling of the panels they sell.

WHAT DOES THE COOLPRODUCTS CAMPAIGN WANT?

In our opinion, the Commission’s initiative to look at ways to reduce the environmental impacts of PV systems to a minimum is a step in the right direction. With the Ecodesign & Energy Labelling policies, Europe has the potential to increase their energy efficiency, and also to limit their impact on resources (by increasing their durability and recyclability), as well as to reduce the use of strategic and potentially hazardous substances.

Further reading:

2016 – Green Alliance – Better Products by Design

2018 - IRENA - Renewable Energy Prospects for the European Union